Chapter 2
Blended Living

A Balancing Act – Flexible Design for Living, Working and Learning

2020 has taught us all a very important lesson; the world is changing, and we need to acknowledge this, keep calm and lead the transformation in this ever-changing environment. The traditional concept of student life and the nine-to-five work routine have been radically upheaved, and many recent changes are set to become permanent. This means exciting new opportunities for design-led living arrangements are on the horizon.

Some of us have taken to blended learning and home-working like ducks to water through this difficult period, while others have struggled with the new normal. Either way, the work/life balance quandary has been a real focus of attention over recent months. By rethinking the design of interior spaces, it’s has been possible to create adaptable environments which result in a much better work/life balance for its occupants.

A student studies in a communal area at Student Roost Patrick Street, Belfast.

Setting Boundaries

The flexibility of working from home is something many of us have wanted for years, but now that it’s become an instant reality, we can’t help but wonder what the impact of working from home has on individuals. According to the UK Green Building Council, In Europe we spend around 90 per cent of our time indoors, with 65 per cent of this spent at home (pre-COVID) – this stat will no doubt have increased over recent months.

Student Roost’s St Mungo's Student Accommodation thoughtfully separates private and shared spaces.

PBSA and BTR properties lead the way in design-led, flexible, communal living. Residents living in well-designed PBSA and BTR are seeing the benefits of human-focused interiors now more than ever, as it’s easier to stay motivated and productive when you have a dedicated space for each activity.

On the flip side using the same environment for work, rest and play can be demotivating and can negatively impact your overall wellbeing. When you’re working, your mindset may be telling you to relax. When you’re relaxing you may feel as though you should be working. The design and layout of your working and living environment, especially in this day in age can have a real impact on reducing stress in our lives, whilst also protecting our physical health, and the promotion of productivity, relaxation, and general overall wellbeing.

When choosing a home in student or build to rent accommodation, it is important for prospective residents to question not only that their basic needs are met, but to what they ultimately aspire to have at their fingertips within their new home. Do they have the space to set up a work zone? Can they arrange somewhere to collaborate with other students on a project? How much privacy do they need or want within communal areas? Are there dedicated areas to exercise/socialise/differentiate work and pleasure? These are the some of the basic questions we need to be both asking and answering when it comes to design. We’re seeing a need for multi-functional amenity spaces which provide flexibility in designs, with ingeniously designed layouts, adaptable and moveable furniture, moving partitions walls and screens, allowing areas to not only be utilised for a range of different uses but to future proof interior spaces.

What Will Success Look Like Going Forward?

While residing in PBSA, students experience the benefit of blended living for themselves. The ease of going downstairs to co-work, and then returning to their rooms or apartment when they’re ready is one of the many attractions to this type of accommodation. Living in a BTR property gives people the freedom to put that barrier back in place without them ever having to leave the building.

City Estates’ West One Student Accommodation experiments with bold design.

PBSA and BTR form a huge part of the property sector’s future. It creates an easier way of life for residents, as there are less constraints and they can have maximum freedom to design their own lifestyle. In schemes we’ve designed and installed this year, amenity spaces have taken precedence. Both quiet and group study areas, cinemas, karaoke rooms, gyms, rooftop terraces and private dining quarters are now perceived to be the norm. There is a real focus on creating functional, yet attractive workspaces within BTR apartments, to further enhance the living experience of occupants.

2020 brought with it new challenges that could further affect room designs and layouts in entirely different ways. Demand for more personal space in communal areas will no doubt rise with the normality of remote working, PBSA could see a greater need for more dedicated work areas with the evolution of distance learning and advances in modern technology. Emphasis on health and well-being are refocusing our clients’ needs, and we are putting more research and development into our products and design services to accommodate this ever-changing landscape. Marriage of design thinking, and flexible application is the way forward. This will change the look and feel of many student developments, but if it creates a space that meets the needs of residents, then they’re changes we should all be welcoming.

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